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Why Today at Apple Made the Keynote

One thing I think that was most interesting on the new Apple Event Keynote wasn’t the new devices, but the fact that Today at Apple was given time on stage.

For those that don’t know what Today at Apple is, it’s a series of workshops that Apple Stores offer for anyone to come to for free and learn things you can do on the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. I am sure there are others as well, but it’s been something that hasn’t been talked much about in the Apple tech community.

The Today at Apple workshops may not be geared towards those who are tech savvy. With that said, Apple giving time for it on stage today in between the release of some much-needed updates (Mac Mini and MacBook Air) and interesting innovation (iPad Pro) shows that Apple isn’t just here to make you think that your iPad Pro 10.5” isn’t good enough anymore. They want you to harness that power with what ever device you have.

As Tim Cook said in the keynote after they announced 60 all-new sessions coming to Apple Stores, it is something that no one else has.

For me personally I have never been to a session, but after today I have been looking at upcoming events and workshops at my local Apple Store and am very seriously considering making the 55 minute drive to go to one of these.

Some sessions mentioned in the Keynote include Siri Shortcuts, and a session called Small Screen Magic which is all about making short movies with the Clips app. They also provided an interesting background with other new sessions that are intriguing to say the least.

Screenshot from the October 30th Apple Event

Screenshot from the October 30th Apple Event

Apple really outdid themselves today with the new devices. But I think they equally outdid themselves 18 months ago when they launched Today at Apple and made it possible for their users to learn from the team at Apple just what kind of things they can make on their computers.

It is also worth noting that when this part of the Keynote happened the entire audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music went into an uproar of enthusiasm and excitement. It is indicative just how important sessions like this can be for users, and I can’t wait to see what I have been missing out on.

Old App Versions with Siri Shortcuts

When Siri Shortcuts came out I was extactic to get my hands on it and see what it can do, but I ran into a problem that I think needs to be addressed by Apple and the Siri Shortcuts team. The problem is that some applications that have since moved on to a new version are not working properly in Siri Shortcuts.

For example, I had a Ulysses Workflow that was imported into Siri Shortcuts after updating the app but when I opened it up I saw this:

I thought it was odd seeing this as I had the latest version of Ulysses installed on my device. After some troubleshooting and testing I have found a temporary solution.

For Ulysses, and possibly other apps, you need to install the older version of the application—in this case Ulysses Classic—and once you do that the error of the application not being installed will go away. In fact when you run the Shortcut it opens the new version of Ulysses, not the older version.

From there you have both the current version of Ulysses and Ulysses Classic installed, which is not ideal. I found that you can actually uninstall Ulysses Classic once you run a Shortcut with Ulysses in it. Once you have tested a shortcut after installing the older version, you can then uninstall the older version and see if adding actions for that application still works. For Ulysses it worked fine for me, but not so much for Tweetbot.

Tweetbot has gone through 4 version of the application and each new version has their own application, which was done to allow the developers over at Tapbots to continue to gain revenue as they add more and more features and support to their app. The problem with this when it comes to Siri Shortcuts is that for some reason the version it is trying to use is Tweetbot 3, not Tweetbot 4, the latest version of the application.

So, I did some testing and found out that installing Tweetbot 3 made the shortcut work and it indeed did open Tweetbot 4 instead of 3 when running the action. However, when I tried it uninstall version 3 the shortcuts I built and new ones I tried to build all came back with the error of the application not being installed.

In this case the solution isn’t a simple install and uninstall of the older version of the app. Instead you need to keep the older version of the application to allow the shortcut to work properly. My suggestion is just put it in the back of a folder on your home screen so it isn’t taking up precious real estate on your screen built still allows you to run shortcuts for Tweetbot.

Why I Think This is Happening

The reasoning for this error saying the application is not installed, I think, has to do with Siri Shortcuts requiring a specific app be installed, in this case older versions of the app when Workflow was in its heyday.

Now, as far as why it is opening the newer version of the apps when both are installed, I think, has to do with the newer version having the same x-callback-url and those newer version of the app taking priority whenever those urls are opened.

So, if you see this problem with certain apps and you know that you have the older versions in your purchase history try and install it and see if that fixes your problem.

As for a permanent fix, I think Apple is aware of this problem as they have seemed to be working with some of the developers on this and are making server-some changes to the application to prevent this issue going forward.

If you notice any apps doing this and want to spread the work let me know on Twitter or feel free to email me.

The Trail Mix of iOS Keyboards

With my iPad only lifestyle, there has been a pain point that’s been present with a lot of iPad Pro users: keyboards.

There never seems to be a perfect keyboard for the iPad that is agreed upon with everyone. In fact there are a number of choices that seem to have some sort of drawback no matter how you look at it.

I like to to think of iOS keyboards like that of trail mix. By that I mean there are lots of options, but you are never satisfied with what you get.

The Peanut

The Magic Keyboard is the peanut, simple yet reliable and gets you where you are going. However, it is missing the sweetness and delight that you want. With no backlighting and a Bluetooth only connection, you often have to wake it from its all too frequent sleep mode just to get the keys to work with the iPad. Sure you can simply tap an arrow key when you want to use it, but when it is such a prevalent and repetitive thing to do it becomes tedious and tiring.

The Sunflower Seed

The Smart Keyboard is the sunflower seed. Small and plentiful, but doesn’t provide enough sustenance in its own. The Smart Keyboard is the most frequently recommended keyboard for an iPad Pro, but it doesn’t check all the boxes. Again, with no backlighting working on the keyboard in a dark room just doesn’t work. Now as a step up from the Magic Keyboard it does have a Smart Connector, but with that comes sacrifice in keyboard size. Especially in the 10.5 iPad. The key size is small, space between keys takes some getting used to, and even some less used keys are squished to fit the footprint necessary to be used as a Smart Cover.

The Raisin

The Logitech Keyboard is the raisin of the bunch where some people like and is “healthy” competition in theory. In reality it sucks and nearly everyone hates them. Honestly the bulky keyboard ironically named Slim Combo seems to be a slap in the  face to the people who decided to buy it. It has a Microsoft Surface knockoff okickstand in the case making the footprint of this keyboard when in use take up more space than any other keyboard I have used. It does have backlighting, but the keys are even more cramped than that of the Smart Keyboard. This is the one keyboard I tell almost everyone to steer clear from because the cons outweighs the pros ten to one.

The M&M

Finally, the Brydge Keyboard is a lot like the cheap M&M knockoff in trail mix. It seems like the best option but it still tastes awful once you bite into it. I had high hopes for the Brydge Keyboard when it was first announced. It’s only issue for me was that it had a Bluetooth connection, but I was willing to let that go for what it offered. The backlit keyboards and comfortable keyboard layout alongside a detachable clamshell design looks both functional and beautiful. Sadly, much like trail mix, the execution was lacking and it ended with a hunk of aluminum that barely worked properly. The keys were mushy and unresponsive in all 3 models I received when I order this keyboard. I have heard from people that you need to expect to send your keyboard back a few times before getting one that works properly, but to me that isn’t acceptable in this ecosystem where a product that costs over $100 needs to be checked for quality and most likely sent back several times before a customer is satisfied. With that said, if you are willing to deal with that kind of hassle the Brydge Keyboard is worth a shot, the support team there is very nice and responsive, but you have been warned.

My Pick

I am not sure what the answer to this is, but as of right now I am sticking with the Smart Keyboard because portability and connectivity are my two biggest needs in a keyboard for my iPad and nothing compares to the Smart Keyboard in these areas. I also am a fan of the butterfly key switches in the Smart Keyboard as I have gotten akin to the MacBrook Pro keyboard when I was using it. I am able to write without much incidents of mistakes and I have zero latency and missed keys when writing on it. So for now this is what I am using.

With that said if a new keyboard came into play for my 10.5″ iPad that executed on these areas and other things like a backlit keyboard and a better key layout I would happily spend my money on it. Sadly, I am not sure we will see anything new come to these iPads with the shadow of new iPads on the horizon, so I won’t be holding my breath.

Why Podcasting Should NOT Be Free

Nir Zicherman writing on Medium:

For almost every single podcast Anchor hosts, the cost to us is less than 10 cents per month. That means that hosting your podcast for an entire year costs Anchor around one dollar. If Anchor were to charge you $10 per month for file storage and basic analytics, we would either be grossly exaggerating our costs, or grossly overpaying our vendors.

Anchor benefits greatly from economies of scale. The easier we make it for everyone to make podcasts, the closer to zero we can drive the average price of hosting everyone’s podcasts. Our per-user costs drop every time we reach a new growth milestone, and will continue to do so. This is because the incremental price of variable costs (like hosting) go down the more we host, and the static costs (like servers) are split as tiny fractions among the many podcasts on Anchor.

People may ask “So if you’re not making money off of me to host… what’s your business model?” We are not in the business of charging you, the podcaster. We want to work with you to help you make money off your podcast, in which case we all win. And that 10 cents per month to host your podcast becomes a negligible cost compared to the revenue we can all earn together as we advance the medium of podcasting together.

Anchor has long been on my radar as a podcasting platform, but their model isn’t what podcasting needs. Hosting costs isn’t the problem with podcasting. It is the fact that companies like Anchor, Sticher and Blog Talk Radio are taking the content that you publish, making it only accessible on their platform, and then pumping ads in it.

I pay $12 a month on Simplecast for both Getting Caught Up and A Slab of Glass. I do it happily because I know that I am supporting developers with my money for hosting, a website, technical support, and download statistics that they share with me on how my shows are doing. I don’t have to hope and pray that Anchor makes their money with ads in order to keep my content alive.

Another point that gets me is the fact that they need a large base of active users to make their model work.

Manton Reece on Micro.blog:

Anchor seems to be going for the YouTube model. They want a huge number of people to use their platform. But the concentration of so much media in one place is one of the problems with today’s web. Massive social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have too much power over writers, photographers, and video creators. We do not want that for podcasts.

Micro.blog podcast hosting isn’t free. It’s $10/month. But for that price you get not just a podcast feed but also a full hosted blog with support for microblog posts or longer essays, photo blogging, custom themes and CSS, posting from a bunch of third-party apps and our iOS microcasting app Wavelength, and most importantly everything at your own domain name so you own the content. The competition for Micro.blog isn’t Anchor; it’s Squarespace and WordPress.

Some things are worth paying for. I share Nir’s goal that podcasting should be more accessible and more affordable to more people, but it’s dangerous to give one company too much control over podcasting. Anchor’s business model demands scale. It’s still unclear how that will play out.

Demanding scale in your model is a lot like demanding a raise before you get offered a job. It isn’t practical and it’s actually really insulting to the users of your platform.

I consume YouTube and even have a podcast co-host that posts on it regularly, but YouTubers will be the first to tell you that this model isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. There are issues, and when it is being run by one of the biggest companies in the world and still having problems, there is no doubt this “free to play” model isn’t perfect.

We need to start putting out money where our mouths are when it comes to the things we care about, and podcast hosting is one of them for me. I have tried tons of podcast hosting services and I have seen other “free” options come and go the last 7 years I have been doing this. the only ones that stick around are ones getting capital from their users instead of making them the product.

The Power of iOS Keyboard Shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts on iOS allows you to fly through the tedious tasks of editing, formatting, and moving items to where you want them to be.

Since I use the Smart Keyboard with my iPad a vast majority of the time I am working on it, keyboard shortcuts have been my bread and butter. To not use them means I have to tap on the screen to modify what it is I am working on. It adds friction to my work. Not being able to use the most efficient way of doing things on my devices can drive me up a wall, and I know I am not alone in this.

Which is why keyboard shortcuts can be so useful. Shortcuts isn’t a word that is arbitrary on this scenario, it really is a literal shortcut to get to your destination faster, and who doesn’t want that? But not all apps are created equal when it comes to shortcuts.

Who Does Keyboard Shortcuts Right

Before I start to go over the things that needs work, I have to give credit where credit is due. That credit goes to the 3rd party developers that embrace those that are using a keyboard with their iPads and making it a staple in their workflows. I have two specific apps in mind, but they are by no means the only ones doing great work for the keyboard users on iOS.

Ferrite

The quintessential example of getting keyboard shortcuts right on iOS is that of Ferrite which I adore. Not only can do everything from a keyboard, but you can even assign each action to the key binding of your choosing.

In fact, Ferrite offers a lot of great presets for popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) for those that are familiar with them. For me, I have a custom key binding as I use an app that does not have presets built into Ferrite called Hindenburg.

Things 3

Cultured Code came out with Things 3 a while back, and I wasn’t happy with the space keyboard shortcuts when it shipped, but that all changed when they released version 3.6 in May. That update offered what they consider “Desktop-Class Productivity”. Nearly everything can be on with just the keyboard on the iPad app of Things.

This was when I finally felt like Things 3 was now ready to ship, and I began to use it as my task manager of choice from there on. One thing I want to note though is that Things only shows the keyboard actions you can do in the current situation you are in so you won’t see the plethora of keyboard shortcuts in the pop up box when you hold the Command key. If you want to see all of the shortcuts available Cultured Code has a great list on their blog.

Problems With iOS Keyboard Shortcuts

Some apps provide a vast array of commands and shortcuts to allow iPad users to use their keyboard 100% of the time. Others though, they don’t think much of the keyboard users. Which brings me to the first speed bump in iOS for keyboard users: you are at the mercy of developers to provide the shortcuts you need.

Developers Have to Do All The Heavy Lifting

This is not to condemn developers for this problem, many developers often have plans to integrate shortcuts in their apps in the future. The only problem is time and resources. Many of my favorite apps. like Drafts 5 for example, are developed solely by one person and they can’t always get to secondary things like shortcuts immediately after launch. They have other things to worry about like making sure the app doesn’t crash regularly and the features that people want the most is what goes to the topi of the to-do list. Which makes things like keyboard shortcuts fall lower and lower on the list of priorities.

But this isn’t just a developer issue, this is also an issue that Apple can help in with their iOS operating system as a whole.

Lack of Apple Subtleties

For instance, it can be hard to tell which app is currently connected to the keyboard.

When you work in split view it can be hard to tell which app has the keyboard connected to it, there is no kind of indication outside of a blinking cursor if you are using a text editor that supports that.

One thing I have noticed that helps is if you quickly tap on the app you want to use the keyboard with. This isn’t ideal, but it is the best option I have found that works with iOS 11 as of now (and the iOS 12 beta as well).

A simple indication of what app is currently active could solve this problem easily, and I think iOS needs this in their software.

Final Thoughts

The keyboard for iOS isn’t perfect, but if you implement more keyboard shortcuts it can help you do your work even a little bit better. One thing I tell all of the people I know who are using an iPad with a keyboard is to press and hold the Command key in the apps they use, because it will show all of the keyboard shortcuts you can do.

In the future I would love Apple to really make it clear that you can do all of the things you want from a MacBook in an iPad, including keyboard shortcuts. If Apple embraces the fact that this touch device is also a true laptop replacement, they need to start with they keyboard and the software behind it.

In a perfect world Apple would make everything possible on an iPad also an option on the keyboard. Until then though, I will just have to contact the developers, who work so hard on these apps, and ask them politely to embrace the keyboard like so many of us have.

If you are looking for other keyboard shortcuts, check out Apple’s documentation online and see some of the things you can do on iOS with a keyboard.

How Siri Shortcuts Can Revolutionize iOS Automation

David Sparks really sums up my excitement for Siri Shortcuts in ways better than I ever could, but this bit takes the cake on how I feel about automation and iOS.

David Sparks from MacSparky:

I’ve always felt that the iPhone and iPad could be capable of so much more with deeper automation. For so long Apple showed no interest in automation, and I’d convinced myself that they were afraid to get that geeky all over their new mobile operating system. I’m not alone in this. However, with the Workflow acquisition, it feels like we have now embedded, inside Apple, a group of our brother and sister automation nerds and they are running wild all over the iOS operating system. I couldn’t be happier. I hope that when iOS 12 ships, Siri Shortcuts delivers the goods we’ve seen so far. I also hope Apple management never wises up to the automation revolution that may result.

Siri Shortcuts seems to really be Workflow 2.0. It doesn’t seem to have been dumbed down in any way, and for that I am beyond thankful someone at Apple stuck to their guns and allowed the iPhone and iPad continue to have the power it gained with Workflow and beyond.

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